As hundreds of Royal Mail staff walkout in Merseyside and Warrington against racism and victimisation in early October, it must be dawning on management that postal workers are up for a fight.
First 50 workers at Bootle and Seaforth delivery offices walked out over a manager’s racist comment to a Muslim worker on 3 October. Then the suspension of three Warrington drivers for refusing to cross the picket line brought out hundreds more. More disputes, in Nottingham for example, are in the pipeline.
For the past month hundreds of offices across the country have been holding gate meetings to back its dispute. Then staff came out again as ballots were issued on 24 September, lining up outside the offices for mass mailings of their return ballots to ensure a massive turnout and yes vote.
Facebook and Instagram were awash with photos and videos postal workers holding up their ballots with the yes box ticked and posted. Regular social media updates spreading news of the actions have helped keep up the ferment.
Fight for our future!
The dispute to defend the 2018 “Four Pillars” agreement is about the whole future of the company and the workforce. Royal Mail’s new anti-union CEO Rico Back is ripping it up and pushing the union to one side to impose restructuring.
His moves point to breaking up the company in order to take on the workforce in smaller chunks, and to sell some or close other operations, while opening the workforce to zero-hours contracts. Tens of thousands of jobs are threatened.
The logical endpoint is GLS, Royal Mail’s non-unionised European arm with spurious self-employment contracts, and14 hour work days, dubbed “modern day slavery” by one undercover reporter.
The public are also victims, as the company connives with the Tory-appointed postal regulator Ofcom to bring forward a review of the Universal Service Obligation that underpins the postal service, almost certainly to cut daily deliveries down to five days and at least 20,000 jobs with it.
To their credit CWU postal union officials have applauded the mass solidarity action in the North West, with General Secretary Dave Ward tweeting “A new era of trade unionism is being born and we stand at the forefront of it”. GS Postal Terry Pullinger has argued repeatedly for workers to back the union, as this is “the fight of our lives”.
This has definitely raised awareness of what is at stake and inspired workers. But the hard work of hundreds of workplace reps and militant activists has been most important.
But no official had to tell these workers to act; these inspiring walkouts show that rank and file solidarity and unity, rooted in the shopfloor, are the core of the union. It is that force that needs to become organised into a rank and file movement able to control the strike and extend it beyond what CWU leaders are willing to do.
It is quite possible that the union could face a court injunction if a Christmas strike loomed. If the officials try to drop the strike, as they did in 2007 and 2017, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the rank and file need to take control.
The slew of walkouts shows that postal workers have many centres of strength that are capable of mounting unofficial action on a national scale, but only if the rank and file are organised on that scale too. Unfortunately, the Four Pillars Agreement blocks strike action until after weeks of mediation. So it will be November at the earliest before we are on strike. But that gives us plenty of time to build a massive solidarity movement from the other unions and Labour. This is our biggest battle in decades; we need to organise on the scale that can win.
Activists and reps can take steps to organise and control the strike at the local level, with regular meetings to plan strategy, demand necessary action from our leaders, and organise action without them where we can.
But militant members, reps and branches should go further and organise a national rank and file meeting to build a movement capable of developing a strategy to win, whatever comes, and of carrying it out.